Out & About: Literary Excursions in Central Connecticut

Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite novel? If you live near or have a chance to visit central Connecticut, your wish just may come true!

Excursion #1: The Storytellers Cottage 

Level: Older kids to Adult

Book Pairing Suggestion: PERSUASION, the last fully complete novel written by Jane Austen. The story of young Englishwoman Anne Elliot and her second chance at love with Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth will set you in the perfect mind frame for visiting this unique space.

Middle Grade Book Pairing Suggestion:  ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson.  Eleven-year-old Imogen (Impy) has been homeschooled by her parents, who work at a Renaissance Faire. She’s eager to begin her training as a squire, but the complexities of fitting into her new public school friend group are kind of getting in the way!

The Storyteller’s Cottage opened it’s charming doors in October 2017. This uniquely appointed Victorian home is a place where literature truly comes to life. A directional sign adjacent to the front porch points visitors to such memorable locations such as Narnia and The Shire.

From the moment you enter, the Cottage invites you to “immerse yourself in a different time and place…Indulge your passion with like-minded bibliophiles as a member of one of our unique literary societies, or at our charming dramatic events, or in our novel (& inspired) mystery game rooms. We host book clubs, writer’s retreats, author talks, murder mystery dinners, dapper cos-play LARP, 4-D theater productions, and much more.”

 

The Cottage is very welcoming to writers, offering a variety of nooks & crannies to hunker down in when you’re looking to create. (There is a medieval keep room that you access by going behind a moving bookshelf!!) They also host writing retreats, as well as writing workshops for both adults and children. Or, you can join in one of their growing number of book clubs, which include groups such as “The Great British Baking Club” and the “Jane Austen Teacup Lunch Bunch.”

Another fun offering is their Great Scott Escape Rooms. “A variation of the popular ‘Escape Room’ live escape game, the Great Scott! Mystery Rooms offer players a chance to actually become detectives, just like characters in their favorite mystery novels. Bring your team of up to 8 people, and immerse yourself in a classicmystery story. Each of our three game rooms is full of codes, riddles, puzzles, and clues, and you will have one hour to solve the mystery we’ve set for you!”

There is so much going on at the Storyteller’s Cottage! Be sure to visit their website to see many more pictures and get a flavor of the huge number of events offered.

 

Excursion #2:

The Amazing Castle™at the Avon Free Public Library (limited time; traveling exhibit)

Level: Preschool to early elementary school

Book Pairing Suggestion: THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann. This is a fun read-aloud picture book which Kirkus calls “a rollicking and warped Medieval take on the well-worn cumulative rhyme.”

dragon

The Amazing Castle™ is an interactive medieval exhibit on the floor of the Children’s Room at the Avon Library. Kids have free reign of the castle and all its inner-workings. There are lots of opportunities for pretend play, such as cooking in the castle’s stone fireplace. The Amazing Castle™ exhibit was created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum with funding from Curtis and Marjorie Nelson and The Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation, and will only be at the library until May 12, 2018. So check it out!

 

P.S. Central Connecticut is also home to the Mark Twain House and Museum! Are your bags packed yet?

Poetry Playtime

Because I Wanted Jam

 

I had thought

the gray, overcast morning

would grant me solitude

in the field.

 

But I forgot

how short the season is,

the strawberries being

generous but fleeting —

like a swarm of gnats that

skirts their course as humans approach.

 

And I forgot

how early the young ones rise:

they’ve been up for hours already.

They’re past second breakfast

and have burned through screen time.

 

And they’re all here with me

in the warming field.

Asking is this one ripe

and being told

no not the white tipped ones

 

And being called to over and over

Nina. Nina. Nina come here!

The incessant voice of a mother bird trying to

push the little ones deeper into the nest

on fledging day.

Wishful Adoption

I met Addie last summer. She rode around in the car with me, and I fell in love with her 12-year-old self. She is funny, resilient, and in need of love and a stable home. I would have adopted her on the spot, if it had been possible.

Months later, I’m still thinking about her. I’ve actually caught myself wondering how she’s doing. That might seem reasonable, except for the fact that Addie is not real.

She’s actually the main character in the middle grade novel WAITING FOR NORMAL, which I listened to on CD.

Normal

From Goodreads:

Addie is waiting for normal.

But Addie’s mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way.

All or nothing never adds up to normal.

All or nothing can’t bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.

In spite of life’s twists and turns, Addie remains optimistic. Someday, maybe, she’ll find normal.

Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl’s giant spirit. waiting for normal is a heartwarming gem.

I meet a lot of characters in books that I’d like to know in the real world, but Addie was and is special to me. One reviewer called her a “21st century Pollyanna” (like it was a bad thing!) which helped me realize why I loved her so much. She takes these crap situations life keeps throwing at her, and she never stops believing things might turn out okay.

I also fell in love with the two people who run the gas station across the street from Addie’s trailer. Both Sula and Elliot are well-crafted examples of how small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life. Addie’s stepfather is also a rock-star, someone you hope does exist in the real world, because you know he’s so needed. But most of the time, Addie’s mom’s erratic behavior made me want to reach into that book and pluck Addie out so she could safely stay with me.

Oh, Addie. Yes, I will adopt you.

The problem is, you will have to share a bedroom with 9-year-old Ada. Ada’s mom makes Addie’s mom look like a PTA committee chairwoman. Like Addie, I met Ada when she spent a few weeks riding around in the car with me. (Maybe my problem is listening to these stories via CD – I hear the character’s ‘voices’ and become convinced they’re real?) Again, we have a special child fighting crappy odds. But then WWII gets layered on. I became frantic wondering how I could fast track Ada’s adoption.

TheWar

From Goodreads:

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Ada is the opposite of a Pollyanna. She never really expects anything good to happen at all. And when good things do happen, she is deeply mistrustful. Being treated with kindness is especially hard for her. The descriptions of how her caretaker Susan (who never asked for or wanted Ada and her brother) deals with Ada’s outbursts and anxieties are beautiful, and wild, and real. The author really does an amazing job of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens when someone opens their home and heart to a child who has been wounded emotionally.

I’m not sure I could have done as good a job as Susan in helping Ada, so it’s probably best my adoption plans did not go through. Plus, it may have been hard to time travel back to the 1940s. But in my mind, Ada lives at the horse farm down the road, and Addie is a just a few hours car ride away. I wish I could have them both here, so I could give them the hugs I’ve been saving up for them. I thank Leslie Connor and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for writing these stories and introducing me to these two exceptional girls.

WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

I’m Still Thinking of You

I’m Thinking Of You

Today marks the three year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Last year, I worked through my sadness by writing a post titled “I’m Thinking Of You.” Today those words are on a field trip over on Mamalode.com. Won’t you please come have a look, and share the message?

I’m Thinking Of You

Like me, you probably have friends and family that are so often on your mind and heart that you can have whole conversations with them without ever picking up the phone. I truly believe there are more positive vibes in this world than negative events.

To anyone struggling with sadness and challenges right now: You are not alone. You’d be surprised how many people are thinking of you right now.

And to the families of Newtown: We’re thinking of you not only today,  but always.

 

 

Interested in turning your good thoughts into positive action? Click the links below to learn more.

Everytown for Gun Safety

“The reasons for gun violence are complex, but real change on a few issues could save lives.”

Text “ENOUGH” to 64433

Sandy Hook Promise

“I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools and communities.”

Sign their petition to pass mental health reform here.

26 ACTS – Changing the World one kind act at a time

“Do one act of kindness for each of the lives taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

“Every action, no matter how small, helps us build safer communities and a brighter future. Together, we can end gun violence.”

Sponsoring Orange Walks to honor all of the lives taken by gun violence in America, and show just how determined we are to end it.

Other actions:

Consider writing your representatives in government to voice your concerns. Contact information is easy to find here:

Senators

Congressional Representatives

 

 

 

Book Bravo: The Impossible Knife of Memory

ImpossibleKnife

 

From the JacketFlap:

“For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both. They moved back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war [Iraq] threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart.

How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him? What are you supposed to do when your parent stops acting like an adult? And what happens if a sweet guy who can make you laugh barges his way into your world and for the first time, you find yourself thinking about the future?”

I knew this book had darker notes to it, so it had been moving up and down and sideways on my nightstand, waiting for me to be “ready” to read it. Then a series of snow days converged with the cover image to give me the kick I needed to dive in. And now I’m filled with the “evangelical zeal” that John Green talks about to tell other people about it.

From the first scene, Hayley had me in her corner. She sees herself as different than the ‘zombies’ in her new school, but right away I could see through her judgmental comments and understand her desire to belong. This is a young girl who has been through a lot, and is now holding on by her fingertips as things go from bad to worse.

Some reviews have criticized this novel as giving a “clean” version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If that is true, I’d hate to see the un-sugar coated version. I’m sure for people with personal connections to PTSD, it may read differently than it did for me. But I felt that the author did an excellent job of showing how some people are able to navigate daily life even when they have a very thin hold on reality. I think we would all be shocked if we knew how close so many people are to the edge of breakdowns. (Sometimes I dream that people had meters on them to show their “code red” status…Oh, he’s “code orange” today, better be extra nice...).

One of my favorite subplots of this book is Hayley’s relationship with her new friend, Finn. These two remind me a lot of Eleanor and Park*, another quirky couple who find each other among the cloud of teenage angst that surrounds high school. Finn becomes an anchor for Hayley as the chaos at her home swells.

“When I was with Finn, the world spun properly on it’s axis, and gravity worked. At home, the planet tilted so far on its side it was hard to tell which way was up. Dad felt it, too. He shuffled like an old man, as if the carpet under his feet was really a slick sheet of black ice.”

*Also a must read

*Also a must read

Hayley’s character is richly written, with multiple, believable layers. But the supporting cast all have deep back stories of their own. Both Finn and Hayley’s friend Gracie are also dealing with serious issues at home. These underlying stories enhance the theme of how we take care of those that we belong to.

Andy struggles with invasive memories and does a lot of crappy things as a parent. But we never doubt his love for his daughter. I found the other adults in the book to be very real as well…dealing with their own stuff while trying to do their best for the younger people who are in their care.

Take advantage of one of these snow days, and read THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY. Whether it does it perfectly or not, this book helps shed much needed light on the issue of post traumatic stress disorder. And that is a good thing.

 

 

Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

MeaningofMaggie

Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

Recipe for an End-of-Year School Concert

 

BandConcertEnd-of-Year School Concert:

Take one packed parking lot. Add a semi-legal parking space and a giant puddle. When shoes are properly muddied, dodge other frantic cars and head to the steaming hot auditorium.

Mix in one part little kid sweat smell, one part high-pitched yelps, and three parts exuberant excitement.

Carefully fold in a clean, pressed, white shirt and dark pants. Then untuck the shirt, wrinkle it, and drizzle some syrup on it.

Walk up and down the aisles until you find a wedge of seat you can balance on. Squeeze in. Fan self liberally with floppy program.

At this point you have the option of the following add-ins: screeching violins and/or microphone feedback, honking clarinets, almost-on-pitch horns, slightly off beat drums, one-measure-behind bells, unintelligible song announcements.

Once you have all this rolling at a slow boil, add in a front-row-hold-up-my-giant-Ipad-to-record-this parent. Have that parent stand up and sit down at unexpected intervals. Make sure their Ipad obscures the vision of almost everyone behind them.

For extra flavor, you can sprinkle in a few younger siblings who pop out of seats and walk back and forth in front of your row. This should happen at least four times. Stage-whispering and crinkly snack wrappers are a nice touch.

If your concert now has a slightly sour taste to it, scan the risers for your child. A smile and wave will result in a much more palatable blend. The blowing of a kiss will bring the sweetness to the next level.

Now add in one extremely talented choral director, a spirited strings teacher, and a rock-star bandleader. Shake them until they are fatigued but still smiling.

Your mix is now ready for the oven. As it bakes, the smells will waft over you and a sense of pride in what has been produced will well inside you. Clap loudly when done.

For a final garnish, add the tears of a sentimental sap who cannot hear children’s voices raised in song without emoting.

Leftovers should be served immediately to any parental unit unable to partake in the original dish.

During clean up, if you accidentally nick the side of the car of that front row parent, do not leave a note. They will be too busy never watching their recording to notice it.

Enjoy!

SchoolConcert

Gifting the Giver

My family has been taking a lot of personality tests lately.   Guided by the kids and some silly online quizzes, I now know which Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey, and Hunger Games character I am.  I also know which Disney Princess I most emulate.  My daughter, who is…headstrong…keeps trying to retake the quizzes and manipulate them to get the results she wants.  But the facts don’t lie, and she’s always rerouted to her true persona.

The truth is, most people have a personality type that they gravitate to.  This idea is the basis for Veronica Roth’s exciting dystopian YA novel, DIVERGENT (Katherine Tegen Books, May 2011).

Divergent hc c(2)

From Veronica Roth’s website:

“In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.”

Yes, there’s a quiz for that.  I took it, and found out that in Roth’s future world, I would be in Abnegation.  No surprise.  My family also fell along their party lines.  (Pretty glad we don’t live in that society, as factions don’t mix, and I’d miss them!).

I’m fairly sure if we were all sorted today, Abnegation would be full of a lot of mothers.  For most moms, giving selflessly feels natural, and right.  It’s just what we moms do.  But as the book points out, it can be dangerous to be only one thing, and to have only one way of living.  If we are truly selfless all of the time, we’re going to end up in a big pile of dusty cranky resentment.

This year I’ve challenged myself to expand my giving, but just as importantly, to be more giving to myself.  The three categories I’m working on are:

Big Ways to Give

This one includes things like monetary gifts, reaching beyond our country’s borders, and giving my time more freely.

Little Ways to Give

This is the one that’s easiest and I’m having the most fun with.  This category is includes anything free, like smiling at a scowling person, or watering the plants in a household overrun by twin one-year-olds.

Giving to self

Okay, maybe this one is the most fun.  You just have to get over that initial twinge of guilt.  With practice, I am finding out that focusing on this category makes me much more likely to be able to participate in the Big and Little gives. (I know, duh.)

DIVERGENT is a great reminder that it’s dangerous to be just one thing.  We all have the capacity to be intelligent, selfless, peaceful, brave, and honest. But if we’re always giving to others, it will be very hard to find that balance.   So, for anyone waiting for a sign from the universe to take that class, that weekend away, that evening for yourself…this is it!  Go for it!  The people you care for will be better for it, and so will you.

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